A poster for the Oscar-winning film.
Read more about Muriel Gardiner, with links to her own writings, at this site.
|America was captivated in 1977 by a movie about an American medical student in Vienna who cajoled an author into smuggling cash to the forces fighting Adolf Hitler's takeover of Austria in the early 1930s.
Vanessa Redgrave played the title role in "Julia," the story of a young heiress involved in the Austrian underground who convinces her childhood friend, said to be author Lillian Hellman, to help the socialists opposing the Nazis
Based on one of three autobiographies by writer Hellman, who was portrayed by Jane Fonda, the movie left a generation with the impression the famed author helped the enemies of Hitler in Austria.
But you know Hollywood.
Muriel Morris Buttinger Gardiner, who was living in Pennington when it came out, said the film distorted history.
She was "Julia," Gardiner said, and Lillian Hellman had never smuggled anything to her in her days with the underground. They had never even met, though they had been represented by the same lawyer at different times. Gardiner said she had spoken often over the years, including to the lawyer, about how she had been involved with the Austrian Socialist party in the 1930s.
She also had talked about the time she convinced a friend to smuggle a supply of American passports to her. Her friend smuggled in the passports in her high-fashion fur hat, just as happened in the movie "Julia." Hellman responded to Gardiner's claims by saying the tale in her third autobiography, called "Pentimento," had occurred and that the "Julia" she wrote about was another American in Vienna helping the underground. Hellman said her "Julia," the Redgrave character, ended up getting killed by the Gestapo.
Gardiner's story added fuel to author Mary McCarthy's allegations that Hellman had made up heroic details about herself in her autobiographies. In addition to creating a feud between two of America's top women authors, the incident prompted Gardiner to record her own story.
Working in her Pennington home, she wrote "Code Name ‘Mary': Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground." It came out in 1983, two years before she died, and was followed in 1987 by a television documentary Gardiner had helped produce
Gardiner's story detailed undeniable similarities between her experiences and in "Julia," including the smuggling with a stylish fur hat. In the documentary, Gardiner explained how she saved the lives of Jews and political dissidents in the fascist Austria of the 1930s.
"When the Nazis came we just did what we could to get people to leave. That's when my real work began," Gardiner said.
Born in Chicago in 1901, Gardiner was the youngest of four children of a meat-packing magnate, which gave her enormous wealth and opportunities.
She was uncomfortable with her wealth, and often gave money and gifts to friends: "I knew from an early age, that there was a great difference between rich and poor. Sensing this made me feel uncomfortable," Gardiner wrote in her memoirs.
After graduating from Wellesley University in Massachusetts in 1922, she spent a year in Rome before studying literature at Oxford University. A brief and unhappy marriage at this time produced her only daughter, Constance.
In 1926, Gardiner traveled to Austria with the intention of undergoing psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud. When he rejected her as a patient, she enrolled in the University of Vienna Medical School
As a student in Vienna in 1932, amidst great poverty and despair, her uneasiness with her wealth and social distinction grew. She became an active Socialist, eventually joining the underground Austrian revolution
She used her significant trust fund, and enormous courage, to help Jews and others in danger by the Nazis, who would soon run Austria
Gardiner offered her home as a safe-house, smuggled false passports and provided money to help hundreds of Jews and political dissidents escape from Europe.
"These were the people who I identified with, although I didn't know them," Gardiner said in the documentary. "They were the Socialists who had done a beautiful job in creating a city with all sorts of opportunities for the poor people and the workers. I wanted to help them."
Joseph Buttinger, a radical Socialist, found safety in Gardiner's apartment during this time and became her husband after they fled Europe for the United States.
On the day of her graduation from medical school in 1938, she was forced out of Vienna by Gestapo guards after writing that she was Jewish on her exit forms. Her paternal grandfather was Jewish, but Gardiner had been raised Catholic.
When she returned to the United States, she was active in aiding concentration camp refugees and other immigrants when they arrived in New York
After two years, the family moved to Pennington where Gardiner completed her medical internship and began work at the Trenton State Hospital, researching venereal diseases for the New Jersey Department of Health
She switched to psychoanalysis and worked for years as a therapist and adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Gardiner had been working sporadically on her memoirs for years when her publisher told her he thought her experiences might have been the basis for the movie "Julia."
Gardiner realized that the similarities between her exploits and Julia's were remarkable. The release of the highly-publicized "Julia" prompted Gardiner to focus her attention on finishing her own autobiography.
Speculation about the career of Hellman grew when "Code Name Mary" was finally released in 1983. Hellman repeatedly denied that Gardiner was the role model for the character in her autobiography, "Pentimento." But skeptics say their mutual friend and lawyer, Wolf Schwawbacher, probably was the source for Hellman's story. According to the documentary, "The Real Julia," "Gardiner related her experiences in Austria to Schwawbacher and, through Schwawbacher, Hellman learned of Gardiner. There was wide speculation that Schwawbacher was the source for Hellman's story."
"The Real Julia," painted a picture of Gardiner as "...an extremely well-put-together woman with great grace, charm and sharp intelligence."
"Code Name ‘Mary'" included a forward by Gardiner's close friend, Anna Freud, daughter of the father of psychology, Sigmund Freud.
In this excerpt, Freud praised Gardiner for her strength and courage.
"Two things can be learned from [Gardiner's autobiography]: One, that it is possible for lone individuals to pit their strength successfully against the sinister forces of an unjust regime; and, two, that there is always at least one ‘just' man or woman ready to help, rescue and sacrifice his or her own good for fellow beings." In "Pentimento," Hellman portrayed "Julia" as the heroine and herself as self-absorbed author who was scared to death while smuggling money for the Austrian underground
Still, Hellman's last years were tainted by the feud with McCarthy, who had written that Hellman often lied in her memoirs
One of the most prolific playwrights of her era, with plays like "The Little Foxes" and "Toys in the Attic" to her credit, Hellman was one of a artists "blacklisted" by Hollywood for alleged communist associations.
|1977: Who was the real heroine?|
|By LAUREN BLACK and PAUL MICKLE|